Bluegrass Beacon: Speaking truth to potential Teamsters

BluegrassBeaconLogoLongtime NBA forward Paul Pierce, who’s being paid a handsome $5.3 million this year, is making waves with his recent comment that he hopes his infant son does not follow in his footsteps and instead plays major league baseball.

“They’ve got a better union,” Pierce told NBA.com.

Perhaps we’re getting a glimpse into why basketball-great-turned-marketer extraordinaire Shaquille O’Neal in 2001 branded Pierce with a nickname that never went away: “The Truth.”

The Major League Baseball Players Associationis a better union – at least in terms of its members’ wallets; players’ earnings are limited primary by market forces rather than the artificial salary caps prevalent in most other pro sports.

And what’s happening in the wide, wide world of sports finds a comparison in the shrinking, shriveling world of private-sector unions.

The International Brotherhood (don’t female members dislike this?) of Teamsters are engaged in a full-court press to unionize thousands of employees in FedEx’s highly successful freight division. Those workers deserve information about the union bosses who covet gaining access to the millions of their dollars in the form of dues such a coup would produce.

In the spirit of Paul Pierce, here is The Truth:

  • Some of the Teamsters bosses’ seriously questionable calls raise reasonable doubt about their ability to make sound decisions on their members’ behalf.

UPS, Louisville’s largest employer, in a memo last year informed 15,000 employees it was dropping their spouses’ health-care coverage due to rising medical costs and the price tag of Obamacare.

FedEx Freight employees might want to consider how the Teamsters’ leadership flipped, flopped and then flip-flopped on Obamacare before finally applauding it – but only after the policy’s namesake doled out a corrupt loophole in the form of a health-insurance tax exemption behind closed doors at the White House.

The misnamed Affordable Care Act has cost lots of people associated with FedEx’s competitors their health coverage, forced middle-class Americans to bear the burden while Teamsters chief James Hoffa and his pals enjoy a respite from the madness of Obamacare’s mandates.

If I’m a FedEx Freight worker, I’m going to think long and hard about whether I want to pay dues that the Teamsters demand be 2.5 times my hourly wage rate to leaders who exercise such poor judgment.

  • This year alone, seriously corrupt and criminal activity involving too many of those leaders – including some right here in the Bluegrass State – has been exposed.

Jerry Vincent was indicted in July on charges he embezzled more than $17,000, arranged for nearly $24,000 in illegal loans for himself and committed 13 criminal violations related to union records while president of Louisville’s Local 783 from 2006 to 2011.

  • Another relevant question for those facing membership decisions involving the Brotherhood: Do I really want to pay dues to a union that’s been under federal court supervision for 25 years as part of a settlement related to racketeering charges?

Am I really inspired to pay my hard-earned money to a union that has had more than 600 of its officials successfully charged by the Independent Review Board?

  • Do I really want to pay my hard-earned money to Teamsters officials who, according to the organization’s Form LM-2 Annual Report, spent $60 million in 2010 just on “political activities and lobbying,” “union administration” and “general overhead?”

The truth is, membership in private-sector unions has dropped to the point where only 7 percent and 9 percent of the workforce in this country and commonwealth, respectively, still think it’s worth those hefty dues.

The rest have determined that labor unions served valuable purposes in the past, but now it’s time to work together with employers to keep the FedEx’s of the world strong and profitable, grow more companies like them – and make sure they all come to Kentucky.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

Is Kentucky’s school data secure?

Hacked School Database Graphic

Multiple news agencies such as the Bowling Green Daily News and WBKO are reporting that a student in the Warren County Public School System hacked into sensitive data held by the school system. That database reportedly included social security numbers for both staff and students, among other things.

This will add to growing concerns about the data being collected by our public schools. It isn’t the first time such breaches have occurred in Kentucky, either.

Considering the rich treasure trove such databases now provide to data thieves, when even students can hack into such sensitive areas, the public may need to pay close attention.

As a note, the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts pushed legislation on data security during the last legislative session. That bill, House Bill 5, won’t take effect until January 1, 2015, however. The act will require notification to individuals when their sensitive data is breached in a Kentucky agency’s database. Will the Warren County system do the right thing and follow the act’s notification procedures even though the act isn’t yet in force?

More on Kentucky’s public education achievement gaps in 2014

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I wrote several days ago about generally growing achievement gaps for Kentucky’s black students in the new 2014 Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (KPREP) testing. KPREP is Kentucky’s three-year old assessment program, and the math and reading KPREP tests are Common Core aligned.

The gaps between white and black proficiency rates on KPREP reading and math for students in elementary, middle and high schools generally increased between 2013 and 2014. The only exceptions were for middle school reading and high school math, where very small reductions in the gaps occurred.

Aside from KPREP, we can look at more test information for Kentucky. This comes from other tests that most definitely are college-ready aligned, namely the ACT, Inc.’s EXPLORE and PLAN tests. EXPLORE and PLAN are given to all Kentucky eighth and 10th grade students, respectively.

As with the KPREP, in most cases (5 out of 8 shown in the table below), the achievement gaps got worse. We don’t want the gap in the percentage of students meeting the EXPLORE and PLAN Benchmark Scores to increase, but that happened in a majority of the cases shown in the table.

EXPLORE and PLAN 2013 and 2014 Reading and Math Summary

This is particularly disturbing because, unlike the relatively new KPREP, Kentucky has used EXPLORE and PLAN since the 2006-07 school term. Unfortunately, the EXPLORE and PLAN results were not made publicly available by race until 2013, but there has been adequate time for teachers and students to adjust to these tests and for gaps to start decreasing – if black students were being educated effectively. That, unfortunately, does not seem to be happening, on average, and it is clearly time for our education system to start aggressively looking at other ideas like charter schools that are proving particularly effective for students of color.

Kentucky teachers sound off about proposed social studies standards

I wrote a few days ago about Kentucky History Teacher of the Year (2011) Donnie Wilkerson’s testimony to the Kentucky Board of Education about problems with the state’s proposed revisions to the social studies standards.

Now, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports more educators are concerned about the draft social studies standards, as well.

Here are a few key points:

Janice Duncan, a fifth-grade teacher at Lexington’s Southern Elementary says the proposed standards don’t provide enough details about which courses should be taught at each grade level.

Jimmy Brehm, Fayette County Public School’s director of curriculum and assessment, says Fayette County Schools will be challenged in trying to clearly identify a sequence of when certain subjects should be taught.

Referring to the draft standards, Brehm said, “They can’t stand alone. They have to have events tied to them to assure that our kids continue to learn that foundational content. If the state is not going to do that in their adoption, we will have to do that within this county.”

Of course, if each county and school has to separately make such fundamental decisions about basic content, students across Kentucky are going to get anything but a common core of instruction in social studies. In fact, major and important items could be overlooked completely in some areas of the state. That includes such material as a discussion of Founding Fathers like Ben Franklin and James Madison and even a discussion of the Declaration of Independence, which are all missing in the draft.

The new educator comments add to those from Wilkerson, who says the standards, are “devoid” of any substantive content and are based on a framework that does not take into account research on how students learn. Instead, Wilkerson says the draft standards are “filled with high-sounding edu-jargon that envisions students learning all they need to know about geography, history, government and economics using an inquiry-based, discovery-learning approach.”

Wilkerson also points out that the state’s current social studies standards contain a lot more about specific history topics need to be included and when they need to be taught as children progress through school.

Hopefully, the Kentucky Board of Education will realize that the proposal presented to them in early October is very deficient and we will see massive improvements before the board again considers what social studies should look like in Kentucky at their December meeting.

Kentucky’s school funding increased constantly since KERA was enacted in 1990

The Courier-Journal just ran a story about a report out of Washington that claims Kentucky cut education spending more than most states recently.

I don’t think so.

This graph shows Kentucky’s total education revenue by year from the Kentucky Department of Education’s receipts and expenditures reports. As you can see, from the year prior to KERA’s 1990 enactment through the most recent data available, Kentucky’s total education revenue has been constantly rising. Compared to the 1989-90 year, the state’s spending on education in inflation-adjusted dollars is 188 percent of what it was in that earlier year.

Growth in Education Revenue in KY from 1989-90 to 2012-13

Now, here’s the problem with most studies (like the one the Courier mentions) that attempt to compare state-to-state education funding. Kentucky does some non-standard things with its accounting system that makes it hard to determine our overall funding for education.

Specifically, Kentucky’s teacher retirement system and teacher healthcare system are both managed and funded at the state level. School districts never see that large amount of money. It isn’t listed in SEEK. And, it isn’t included in the department of education’s revenue and expenditure reports, either.

So, when researchers look at state education financing, if they are not very careful, they wind up overlooking some very large education spending items in the Bluegrass State.

I don’t know if the report the Courier mentions falls into this trap or not, but I have found that the most reliable data for comparing state-to-state education spending comes from an annually released US Census Bureau Document titled “Public Education Finances.” This document corrects for Kentucky’s unusual education finance activities.

The most recent edition is “Public Education Finances: 2012.” It shows total elementary-secondary school revenue in Kentucky was $7,191,188,000 that year. Note: this is $602,836,960 higher than the 2011-12 figure in the graph above because it adds in those health care and retirement costs.

“Public Education Finances: 2008,” which contains fiscal year 2008 data, shows Kentucky’s total elementary-secondary revenue that year was $6,635,330,000.

Census and KDE Finance Data Compared for 2012

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics very neat online inflation calculator, the increase in Kentucky education funding the US Census Bureau reported between 2008 and 2012 – $555,858,000 – exceeded inflation.

‘Nuff said.

Important student proficiency rate gaps widen in new Unbridled Learning results

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The new Unbridled Learning results contain some generally unhappy news about chronically problematic gaps in reading and mathematics proficiency rates between Kentucky’s white and African-American students. The table below, which captures the last two years of proficiency rate data for whites and blacks from the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress’ (KPREP) Common Core aligned reading and mathematics tests, tells the story.

KPREP Proficiency Gaps in Reading and Math 2013 to 2014

In four out of six cases, the white minus black proficiency rate gaps edged up (got worse) between 2013 and 2014 as shown in the yellow shaded column on the far right.

There was scant improvement only in the Middle School Reading and High School Math areas, but the changes are so small that they have to be considered essentially flat.

Thus, while black proficiency rates did improve a little in most subject/grade combinations listed in the table (though high school reading actually dropped), the improvement was not as good for children of color as it was for Kentucky’s whites.

Furthermore, the latest KPREP black proficiency rates in 2014 indicate only about one in three, and sometimes closer to just one in four, black students in Kentucky are meeting proficiency targets.

It is important to understand that the Unbridled Learning “Gap Group” calculations cannot and do not show this problem. That is because the “Gap Group” calculation in Unbridled Learning lumps all special student groups – the minorities, learning disabled, English language learners and the poor – together as one group of students and then only calculates the overall average proficiency rate for this group.

There is no comparison to progress for white students with the Gap Group calculation.

Furthermore, due to the averaging process and the large number of poor whites in Kentucky’s schools, in most cases the Gap Group results are mostly just results for poor whites in Kentucky’s school system. The other special student groups get lost in the averaging.

The table above provides more evidence that Kentucky’s school children, especially the minority kids, need better options, such as charter schools. So far, after nearly a quarter of a century of Kentucky education reforms, the regular education program still does not meet their needs.

Unbridled Learning’s ‘Program Reviews’ need reigning in

Thanks to massive numbers of way out of line, clearly inflated scores for the new Program Review element in the 2014 Kentucky Unbridled Learning school accountability program, the accountability program’s overall scores are coming into question.

From school superintendents to private citizens, I am seeing and hearing compelling evidence that the Program Reviews have a major credibility problem.

So, in honor of the football season, I am throwing a flag on the Program Reviews. In fact, the Program Review scores look so outrageous that I think it is probably time to eject them from the school accountability game altogether.

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Bluegrass Beacon: Kentucky misses target with gun makers

BluegrassBeaconLogoAfter Maryland passed draconian gun laws in spring 2013, weapons manufacturer Beretta decided to find another state for its planned $45 million expansion.

The company in August broke ground in Gallatin, Tenn., where it now is moving its entire manufacturing operations.

Tennessee economic development officials confirmed this week that while right-to-work was not the only factor determining where the company would relocate, “it was definitely part of our conversation with Beretta.”

0One local official told me that Beretta “definitely confirmed” that Tennessee is indeed a right-to-work state and that company leaders questioned state and local officials about union policies before deciding to move there.

As we reported back in July, Beretta considered a site in central Kentucky’s Nelson County, which, along with Frankfort, offered free land and a kitchen sink-full of tax breaks and other goodies.

Also, it’s not like Kentucky has a problem with the Second Amendment. The Daily Beast recently ranked Kentucky “the most armed state” in America.

Generous incentives and strong protections for the right to bear arms should make the Bluegrass State a draw for weapons manufacturers.

Without a right-to-work law, though, it’s simply not hitting the target.

And it’s at least one of the reasons why Beretta chose to build its plant just 24 miles south of Kentucky’s border instead of along the Bluegrass Parkway.

The right-to-work state won – again – and the forced-unionism commonwealth lost – again.

Wouldn’t it be more progressive to set our state up for success in the form of attracting future gun manufacturers looking to move their operations to states where their employees can legally purchase the products they make?

Economic-development officials in Tennessee said right-to-work laws give them a distinct advantage in competing with Kentucky.

“We hope you don’t succeed,” in bringing right-to-work to Kentucky, said one local recruiter.

Beretta isn’t the only gun manufacturer that comes to the corral knowing what it wants – and what it’s going to do if it doesn’t happen.

For instance, after Colorado’s legislature and Gov. John Hickenlooper decided in 2012 to restrict law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment freedoms, Magpul Industries, which was in the process of planning a groundbreaking for a new facility in Colorado, instead decided to relocate its manufacturing, distribution and shipping operations to Wyoming, and its corporate office to Texas.

Both are right-to-work states; Colorado is not.

Magpul officials had barely finished announcing their changes before Longhorn State Gov. Rick Perry was offering the company a big Texas welcome.

“In Texas, we understand that freedom breeds prosperity, which is why we’ve built our economy around principles that allow employers to innovate, keep more of what they earn and create jobs,” Perry said.

It’s just hard for me to imagine such a big-vision statement emanating from the current Kentucky governor’s office.

It’s certainly a different approach.

While Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is touting his legacy of making Kentuckians increasingly dependent on government for their health care and while his state struggles with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, governors and legislatures in Texas, Tennessee, Wyoming, Michigan and Indiana are making decisions that create the environment that gives their people the kind of economic hope that Frankfort only jabbers about.

If Beshear and his supporters don’t like my analysis, they probably also cringe at the corporate creed laid out on Magpul’s website – especially the section entitled “Annoy the Establishment,” which declares: “Just as America’s Founding Fathers sought to promote individual rights and freedoms over those of the collective, Magpul also stands on the side of the individual. The natural enemy of the individual and innovation is the establishment and bureaucracy (which literally means ‘the power of the desk’). When we are annoying the establishment, we know we are effectively upholding our principles.”

Annoy away.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

Lt. Gov. hopeful files pension-reform bills

McDaniel pre-files transparency bill that shines the light on legislators’ Cadillac pension benefits 

20130114 Make Public Pensions TransparentSen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, has pre-filed three pension-reform bills for consideration during the 2015 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, including BR85, which would shine the light of transparency on state politicians’ Cadillac taxpayer-funded benefits.

BR85 makes all current or former legislators’ benefits in the Legislative Retirement Plan and benefits from other states plans in which a legislator is participating subject to Kentucky’s open-records requests statutes.

“For too long, those who are making decisions about the pension system have had their financial motivations hidden from the public,” McDaniel, who is Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s running mate in next year’s Kentucky Republican gubernatorial primary, said. “This will bring transparency and accountability to the process, and is a change that is long overdue.”

Read the Bluegrass Institute’s reports by Lowell Reese on Kentucky’s public pension crisis, including estimates on how several current and former double-dipping legislators game the system.

McDaniel also pre-filed BR102, which would also shine the light of transparency on the activities of placement agents working within Kentucky’s public pension system, and BR 198, which would end the practice of legislative “spiking” of pensions.

Kentucky teacher speaks out about state’s proposed social studies standards

There was an interesting surprise during the public comment segment of the Kentucky Board of Education meeting on October 7, 2014.

Donnie Wilkerson, a fifth-grade teacher at Jamestown Elementary School in Russell County, traveled to Frankfort on his own to share his deep concerns about proposed revisions to the state’s social studies education standards. Wilkerson’s comments make it apparent that the recent, sharp flare-up over problems with the AP US History Course (see here, here and here) will likely extend to the development of Kentucky’s social studies standards, as well.

As far as I could determine, Wilkerson, who was named Kentucky History Teacher of the Year in 2011, spoke entirely on his own. His comments were insightful, candid and critical. And, he spoke as a social studies insider.

Wilkerson says he was part of a group of teachers assembled in 2013 to create Kentucky’s new social studies standards. He says the original charter for that group was to look at the research and consider all options. Initially working through electronic meetings, the group’s first order of business was to develop a “Scope and Sequence” for the presentation of social studies in Kentucky. Such a document would contain a fair amount of detail about which core subjects and activities would be commonly required statewide.

However, Wilkerson points out that at the group’s first face-to-face meeting the members were informed that only one option could be considered, a social studies standard built around the C3 Framework for social studies (Click the “Read more” link for more on C3). At that face-to-face meeting the important scope and sequence work was declared unnecessary. Per Wilkerson, history was to be downplayed in importance.

At one point during the meeting, a person from out of state was prevented from telling the Kentucky social studies work group why Oklahoma decided not to use the C3 Framework model.

Apparently, the demands did not sit well with the social studies standards development group. In the end, Wilkerson’s group was disbanded and another, presumably more C3 amenable group, was assembled in May 2014 to create the draft standards presented at the board meeting on October 7, 2014. The resulting product, charges Wilkerson, is virtually devoid of content.

Overall, Wilkerson’s short presentation was shocking, and I think you deserve to hear him directly. So, just click on the video link below to hear the story of Kentucky’s social studies proposals in Wilkerson’s own words.

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